Bengaluru: A Kannada news channel that aired a sting operation, allegedly exposing corruption involving a relative of Chief Minister B.S. Yediyurappa, has been taken off air. The channel’s access to its YouTube and Facebook accounts has been blocked too.
The office of PowerTV in Bengaluru was raided by sleuths from the Central Crime Branch (CCB) who have seized several laptops, documents and equipment based on a complaint that the channel’s managing director was involved in extortion and forgery.
According to officials from the channel, the raids followed a two-part sting operation, aired on 7 September and 17 September, allegedly exposing the role a relative of the chief minister played in the awarding of Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) contracts. “Since then, pressure tactics have been used to silence us,” said an official of the channel.
Officials from the CCB said they have been analysing the equipment and are in the process of questioning staff members who may know about the channel functioning.
The trouble began for PowerTV on 24 September when a real estate firm, Ramalingam Construction, filed a police complaint alleging that the channel’s managing director, Rakesh Shetty, had indulged in forgery, impersonation, extortion and criminal conspiracy.
Incidentally, the channel had cited Ramalingam Construction as one of its sources for the information based on which the sting operation was planned.
But in a letter to the Bengaluru police, the real estate firm’s director, Chandrakant Ramalingam, claimed that Shetty boasted he could get any work done as he was “close to Home Minister Amit Shah” and also threatened to tarnish the company’s image if he wasn’t paid any money.
Following the letter, the CCB raided Shetty’s office Monday. It also questioned him for 48 hours and allegedly detained him. PowerTV, meanwhile, was taken off air Tuesday.
Shetty is learnt to have applied for anticipatory bail in the First Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate court.
“We have heard that Shetty has applied for anticipatory bail. We will file objections. Investigations are on,” said a police officer, who is part of the investigation.
Shetty claimed proximity to Amit Shah: Letter
In his complaint to the police, Ramalingam has written that the BDA owes his company Rs 140 crore for four different projects it had completed, and that Shetty offered to help him.
Shetty allegedly set up a meeting in June this year.
“I went to Rakesh Shetty and enquired why he had asked me to come to his office. Mr. Shetty informed me that he wanted to put up some advertisement hoarding at the Yelahanka-AP border that my company has developed,” said the complaint letter, a copy of which was seen by ThePrint. “He also claimed that he is very close to Mr Amit Shah, Hon. Minister for Home Affairs and that he is in touch with him on a regular basis. He also claimed that he could help me in getting any work done either from the central government or the state.”
Ramalingam also claimed that Shetty again met him in the last week of June and persuaded him to discuss a tender floated by the New Mangalore Port Trust (NMPT) for the construction of breakwaters for a fishing harbour in Kulai. The tender was for Rs 100 crore.
The letter alleged that Shetty called up Chief Engineer (Civil), NMPT, Paritosh Bala, claiming to be an officer working at Amit Shah’s office, and asked for the tender to be awarded to Ramalingam Construction.
“I was astonished that he lied to the office. I was also taken aback after receiving the letter dated 29.06.2020 from NMPT disqualifying me from the tender process on the ground that I had tried to influence the tender awarding authority,” the letter said. “I was also made aware that the phone number of Rakesh Shetty was given by the chief engineer to the vigilance cell of NMPT for further enquiry.”
The letter also claimed that Shetty took credit for dues of Rs 7.79 crore released by the BDA to the real estate firm and allegedly wanted a share.
“He posed to be a person of means and powerful connections and therefore I feared for my life and reputation,” Ramalingam’s letter said. “Upon his threat to bring disrepute and also cause injury to me physically, I was forced to pay Rs 25 lakh in cash to Mr Rakesh Shetty on 22.08.2020.”
Ramalingam also added that he was surprised that his company was mentioned in the PowerTV ‘sting’.
Pressure tactics due to sting: Channel
The channel management, however, said the police action was a direct result of the sting operation.
Speaking to ThePrint, principal editor of the channel, Rahman Hasan, said they have fully cooperated with the police.
“We do feel that we are being targeted for releasing the sting operation. Our MD has also gone on record saying that there were attempts made by those mentioned in the sting to try and stop us from airing it,” Rahman said. “They have used all kinds of tactics to pressurise us. When they realised we will not bow down, they have forced this case on us.”
Rahman also put out an emotional message on his personal Facebook page, urging the government to not put the lives of the 250 employees at stake. He said that the equipment that helps relay bulletins live have also been seized and they are waiting to retrieve it after it has been handed over to the courts.
“What has happened between the construction company and our MD is for the police to investigate,” Hasan said. “We employees have worked hard to build this channel. We should not be punished for no fault of ours.”
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